Is what I teach informed by–or distant from–who I am? The various signifiers of my life? Since I can only speak for myself, the answer is that who I am is significantly what I teach. Having grown up queer (gay in my case; I see other gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans folks as my peers) has largely oriented my approach to learning (a lifesaver), schooling (torture), and teaching (dangerously intoxicating, in terms of power). The first thought I have when teaching doesn’t always start with “as a gay man”. But it’s still there, it still informs what I do. How could it not?
For me teaching is a positional pedagogy. I’ve yet to experience teaching or learning that’s genuinely neutral. Everyone bring themselves into the process: the content creator (or appropriator…more generously recycler), the pedagogue, the student, the Powers That Be in terms of the setting or context. Everyone’s there; everyone brings their history. Much of my recent teaching has been in a realm where being queer shouldn’t be terribly relevant: learning technologies. In ETEC565, we don’t merely teach instrumental skills: we teach how to critically select, design and apply learning technologies. The criticality is in there.
One thing we don’t get to do much of is examining existing web resources for their pedagogical value. Recently one came to my attention that’s profoundly moved me. No it’s not “It Gets Better“–though I think it’s an AWESOME project. It’s a blog started by a DJ in the States called Born this way. The premise is simple: queers sharing childhood images and stories, that underscore that their queerness predates puberty and hormones and adulthood. For folks who’ve wondered how a someone feels they knew their sexuality when they were 5 or 6 years old, this site will be an eye opener. What pleases me is that the stories are mostly mirthful, have a sense of joy, and a dearth of polemic. The core message is this is who I’ve always been.
For all the funny ones there’s the one that resonates the most with me:
I remember the ever-present idea of loneliness that seemed to have no end in sight. Knowing I was different – and aware that nobody would approve of what I was feeling – always made me feel alone. And I felt a false certainty that things would remain that way forever.
My childhood in a paragraph, really. Which for folks that know we as an adult (“you’re like the Eveready bunny, John” a colleague rather snarkily commented a few weeks back), might seem far-fetched. Yes I knew what I was when I was four: profoundly, unacceptably different.
And that’s why the positional pedagogy of Born this way, which clearly isn’t neutral–even if it doesn’t use a hammer to get its message across–strikes me as being so vitally important: we’re talking about the mental and spiritual health of kids when we deliver (or perpetuate through silence) the message that they’re something wrong with the person each child naturally is. There’s something really wrong with that. Really wrong.
The internet is a powerful thing.